by Kathleen Costa
BritBox offers a vast entertainment library that will meet every taste from tense detective and crime thrillers to laugh out loud sitcoms, from heart-pounding romance to learn-something-new documentaries, and from contemporary programming to blasts from the past. The membership is reasonable, compared to what’s available, with a $6.99 monthly fee or get a great deal choosing the annual $69.99 option. I’ve been a member for going on four years and have been thrilled whether I access my account through the internet or use the BritBox app downloaded for free from the App Store. Despite issues with the recent upgrade, the quality of the video and audio is excellent. New programs are added frequently like six seasons of Downton Abbey, four season of Rising Damp, and six of the twelve seasons of a new favorite crime drama, New Tricks.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a well-worn adage that seems better suited to illustrate cultural and generational differences than an older generation incapable of learning something new. However, maybe it is a better and more successful strategy to combine the old with the new rather than scrapping one for the other. My new find, New Tricks, has a contemporary, yet seasoned, female detective superintendent being placed in charge of three older, retired, male detectives. Their methods and manners, honed from the 70s and 80s, seem antiquated and obsolete and clash with contemporary police procedures and policies and laws meant to curb sexism, corruption, and brutality. However, their insights, experience, and relationships in the community turn out to be invaluable and often key to successfully closing many cold cases.
New Tricks earns 5+/5 Cold Cases…Brilliant Characters & Compelling Drama!
“The Chinese Job” (Pilot 2003) It was one “screw up,” a blown kidnapping arrest and a dead dog, that puts Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) in the dog house, but she’s a senior detective, firing isn’t an option, but reassignment? As luck would have it, when “bad cops” behavior and an air of corruption pulls into question the conviction of an organized crime figure for the brutal murder of cocktail waitress twenty years ago, Pullman’s immediate superior decides to use the re-investigation for a new initiative (British for task force) of “A team of dedicated personnel re-examining other open cases.” The Unsolved Crime and Open Case initiative (UCOS) is created, but due to limited manpower, it is decided to call upon the large number of retired detectives experienced in serious crime to join, not as badged detectives, more like consultants with benefits. DS Pullman questions, “Do they have to have their own teeth?”
Pullman’s first “no-brainer” choice for one to act as second in charge of the squad and assist in forming a team is her former mentor Ex-DCS Jack Halford (James Bolam). He is widowed, listens to classical music, knows his wine, and talks to his dead wife Mary whose cremated remains are buried in the backyard in a lovely memorial; his conversations, of course, are always one-sided. But the mental health issues behind it and the fact her death was the result of a hit and run lacking justice, are both recurring problems. Pullman and Halford weed through a list of candidates, but find many of them are “dead,” “almost dead,” or “insane, really.” However, a team is finally chosen, not so graciously dubbed by Pullman as “Stan, Ollie, and Rainman.”
After Halford, the next member is Ex-DS “nobody calls me Gerald” Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman), quite the throw back to the 80s with a sexist attitude, love for the ladies, addiction to cigarettes, and questionable connection to many members of the community in and outside the law. He has three ex-wives and a daughter from each failed marriage with whom he continues to have friendly relationships, and a vintage car he protects like the Crown Jewels. Last on the team is Ex-DI Brian Lane (Alan Armstrong) with a brilliant memory and recall, obsessive attitude, meticulous manner, and due to not being able to drive due to his meds, rides his bike everywhere. However, he has a separate agenda to somehow get access to police files not afforded to retirees or, in his case, the person of interest. He hopes to clear his reputation from a long ago “death in police custody” case. He needs to find out if it’s murder, a conspiracy, or a cover-up, but his wife, and at times the team, is deeply worried about his mental health; issues for which meds are required to help manage. Quite the ensemble, and over the six seasons available on BritBox, through more than forty-seven cases, dealing with downward spirals, personal and professional revelations, questionable techniques, and attempted murders, they are friends…friends that often act and react like siblings or petulant children.
I loved everything about this series! The setting is in and around London and its suburbs with excellent pubs, shops, factories, and some woodsy areas and dark back alleys ripe for stashing bodies. The cases are compelling bringing a form of karmic justice, however delayed, to the murderous results of jealousy, greed, business conflicts, organized crime, and just misunderstandings. The lead actors perfectly illustrate the personality of each character…varied, unique, and despite their flaws, they show strength, loyalty, and a grounded sense of right and wrong. This particular group leads seasons one thru ten, although Dennis Waterman continues as Ex-DS Gerry Standing through all twelve seasons, but when the new team takes over for season eleven and twelve, critics thought it lacked the original dynamic. Currently BritBox only has six seasons (2003-2009), a 90-minute pilot and forty-six 50-minute episodes, but I am hoping more will be added since an interesting cliffhanger happened at the end of season six.
BONUS: I dare you to not tap your foot and sway back and forth to the opening and closing theme song. The vocals of “It’s All Right” are performed by Dennis Waterman who plays Ex-DS Gerry Standing. Here is the YouTube version of the extended song.
YouTube “It’s All Right” (2:22)
Are you looking for something more humorous and less intense?
I was, so I found an excellent sitcom with just the right amount of puns and parodies, contemporary references and social innuendos, and twists to historical events and figures. Upstart Crow, first aired in 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and continued for three years with twenty-one episodes (30-minute), including reprising the series in a special 2020 Lockdown Christmas episode—I know, many may think it be too soon to joke about the pandemic, but this twist about the plague in 1603 eased my tension.
Earning 5+/5 Belly-laughs-Upon-Avon…This sitcom, set in the late 1500s, centers around the Bard himself (brilliantly portrayed by David Mitchell) as he commutes back and forth from London to Stratford-Upon-Avon. In London, he complains, whines, and brainstorms various plots, often twisting what we know and spending way too much time on his Henry plays. He is often steered by Kate (Gemma Whelan), the landlord’s daughter and wannabe actor—illegal at the time for women, and household servant Ned Bottom (Rick Rouse) to tweak characters and plots and give up on the boring Henrys. Will supports the local theater company with three actors who manage to entertain despite their varied egos, and for some dramatic laughs, there is his friendship with playwright and spy Kit Marlowe (Tim Downie), whom Shakespeare gives aide and sometimes a cast-off play, and his nemesis and critic Robert Greene (Mark Heap), who plots to destroy Shakespeare at every turn. His home life in Stratford, of course, provides a lot of creative inspiration and frustration with a disgruntled teen daughter (Helen Monks), set of twin pre-teens, his mother (Paula Wilcox), a father (Harry Enfield) who’s less than welcomed around town, and his loving wife Anne (Liza Tarbuck) who joins him at the end of each episode next to the fire wrapping up the day’s events. Guest stars add to the puns and parodies with Kenneth Branagh to Ben Miller to Emma Thompson who plays Queen Elizabeth in an episode that pays homage to Love Actually. Together the ensemble is funny and poignant with layers of commentary on a variety of contemporary issues from the British transportation system, women’s rights (or lack of), immigration, social media, religion, and politics, including veiled references to the U.S. This series is one of my favorite ways to ease the “stay at home” doldrums.
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